Amidst the struggle to keep down property tax increases to the Town of New Paltz budget, Town Supervisor Toni Hokanson and New Paltz Police Chief Joseph Snyder questioned the Town Board’s decision to cut funding to the police personnel line.
The board heard arguments from Snyder Wednesday after a 3-2 vote was made at the previous budget meeting to remove funding for the personnel line.
“A majority of the board voted to take out almost $138,000 out of the police personnel line,” Hokanson said shortly before the meeting. “The rest of the members who pushed for this think that we can eliminate one officer position, and that we don’t need to have a dispatcher from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.”
Hokanson, who said she is “absolutely opposed” to the cuts, voted in the minority against them because she felt they would negatively “have a direct impact on public safety.”
In his arguments to the Town Board, Snyder agreed with Hokanson.
“They talked about eliminating the night dispatch,” Snyder said after the meeting. “I said, ‘You can’t do that.’ We have evidence, we have an armory in the station. We can’t leave it unattended. Someone could break in and we’d have some major issues.”
Snyder felt the community may not be entirely in agreement with the board’s cuts and may show opposition to the decision. He said that when a town supervisor attempted to eliminate the police department in 1999 in an attempt to lower increases, “the community came out in the hundreds” in opposition to the proposed cuts and the town supervisor was not reelected.
In this year’s budget process, however, the town supervisor is very much in agreement with the police department regarding potential cuts. Hokanson represented one of two votes against cuts to the department’s personnel line.
Additionally, Snyder had filled the seat of a recent retiree in the department. Under the proposed cuts, he will not be able to fund the salaries and benefits of all 15 patrol officer slots he has on the department’s current roster.
“We have one person retiring this month, backflowed with a new person in that 15th spot. And they’re saying that after the end of the year, they don’t want to keep that position,” Snyder said. “They said that I shouldn’t have replaced that first without talking to them. But I had 15 slots in my budget. They never said to me that they didn’t want me to backfill it. It’s never been discussed.”
Councilwoman Kitty Brown said that there was “no joy” in making the decision the board came to, but that it needed to be done. She said board members were not aware Snyder had “backflowed” a new person into a retired officer’s slot, but that the town’s budget could simply not afford it. She also pointed out that when benefits are included, it would cost the town even more.
She also said a night dispatcher is a position that many towns do without, and that a large percentage of people who have emergencies likely call 911 and not the police dispatcher.
Snyder, however, argued that it isn’t fair to compare New Paltz to other municipalities.
“I’ve been here 23 years,” he said. “And since I’ve been here, I’ve heard the argument comparing us to other towns around us. But New Paltz is unique.”
Ultimately, Brown said she and the other members have a duty to lower the property tax increases of the residents of New Paltz.
“It’s just not our money,” she said. “Another thing to remember is that this is a community of artists and plenty of self-employed people. The economy is hurting.”
With only one meeting left for board members to make changes to the preliminary budget, a retraction of the cuts may not be likely, but Snyder is hopeful.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” he said. “I’m going to continue to express my feelings and opinions of what I think is essential for our services that we offer. I would like to have more public input.”